Star Trek: Discovery “Project Daedalus”
Previously: Pike and Vyler’s shuttle got hit by a squid-like probe from the future that downloaded all of Discovery’s data. Lt. Airiam, the robot-like bridge officer, got infected with nefarious programming which was symbolized by three red lights flashing in her pupils. We learned the Red Angel is a future human who visited Spock to warn him that someone or something wants to wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy.
It’s another episode directed by Jonathan Frakes, who also gave us this season’s big choppy turd of an episode, “New Eden”. The current episode isn’t quite as bad as Frakes’ previous outing, but it certainly adds to the compelling case to be made that most Star Trek episodes directed by former Trek actors tend to range from mediocre to terrible.
Near a remote planet, Discovery gets a secret visit from a shuttlecraft carrying Admiral Cornwell, who’s here because she and other top-ranking officials have been locked out of “Control”. Control has been mentioned a few times this season, but I never paid much attention, because I assumed it was another name for Starfleet Command or something. But it turns out Control is a computerized “threat assessment system”, and Starfleet feeds intelligence into Control and Control makes recommendations based on that data. Which seems like the kind of computer that James T. Kirk would regularly talk to death on TOS, but okay.
Cornwell says that Admiral Patar, who we briefly saw last week giving orders to Georgiou, is of one those Vulcan “logic extremists”, a group seen in an episode last season where they tried to kill Sarek. Also, they tried to kill Burnham as a child by attacking the Vulcan learning center. So they’re basically terrorists, and one of their members is a Starfleet admiral? It seems like this should be a much bigger deal than they’re making it out to be. Regardless, Cornwell is afraid of Control falling into the hands of extremists.
Cornwell then interrogates Spock using a “brain scan” machine that verifies with 100% accuracy that he’s not lying when he says he never killed anyone. However, Cornwell has security cam footage of Spock murdering his doctor and his guards, and obviously both can’t be true.
She tells Pike they need to get to Section 31 headquarters for answers. By sheer coincidence, Tilly (after doing some Tilly Shtick™ where she assures the admiral that this fugitive stuff is really unlike her) has just now determined where those massive data transmissions from the previous episode were being sent: Section 31 headquarters. So that seems to be where they’re heading this week.
By the way, Vyler, who’s still being blamed for sending those transmissions as well as sabotaging the spore drive, is completely MIA this week. All we learn is that he’s been confined to quarters, but we never see him. Why can’t Cornwell used her souped-up lie detector on Vyler to find out he’s not the saboteur? No idea.
Speaking of the saboteur, we get to know Lt. Airiam a lot better in this episode, for reasons that become apparent later. I always assumed this character was an android, but she’s actually a cybernetically augmented human who only looks totally like a robot. We watch as she uses a machine to scan through her memories, deciding which ones to delete and which ones to keep. Among the ones she chooses to keep are memories of her joking around with Tilly and Detmer and Owo—all of a sudden, the four of them are fast friends, for reasons that will also become apparent later.
Another memory she saves is of herself when she was fully human, and it’s the last day she spent with her fiancé. It’s implied he died in a shuttlecraft crash, and it’s the same crash that injured Airiam seriously enough that she had to be rebuilt as the Bionic Woman.
They arrive at Section 31 headquarters, and find it’s surrounded by mines, which are apparently a major no-no as far as Federation laws go. While this is happening, Airiam is studying that 100,000 year old sphere from a few episodes back, which gets Nhan (the security officer from the Enterprise, now Discovery’s security chief) suspicious. Airiam and Nhan have a conversation that primarily confirms fan theories about Nhan being Barzan, a previously one-off species from a Next Generation episode. Also, we learn that those things on her face help her breathe. It ends when Airiam gets the three red lights in her eyes again and seems to snap back to being normal.
Meanwhile, Burnham brings Spock to her quarters, and challenges him to a game of 3-D chess, suggesting that it can help him “return to logic”. But this friendly game quickly devolves into an argument, and it’s like one of those family game nights where everyone stupidly sits down to play Monopoly and ends up all hating each other after the seven-plus hours it takes to finish a game. Burnham thinks Spock is making random moves and trying to lose, and their argument escalates as the camera gives us tight close-ups of them moving chess pieces around (symbolic!). Spock thinks Burnham is “arrogant” for trying to fix his mind, and mocks the whole chess exercise, but she thinks he’s just “posturing”.
This sets off Spock, who says she’s in no position to judge him, because they haven’t seen each other in years. He accuses her of being “full of self-importance” and then comes at her with both barrels, saying that of course she believes she’s the one to help him, because she’s the same person who singlehandedly started the Klingon War, and “even your parents’ death was your responsibility!” This is accompanied by a flashback to Young Michael hiding while the Klingons attack her parents, which presumably will be of importance later this season. Spock says it’s ridiculous for her to think she could have saved her parents back then; he thinks she prefers to shoulder these kinds of burdens instead of dealing with “unimaginable grief”.
Burnham screams at him to shut up and stop taking his anger out on her, and figure out why he’s really angry, but he’s just “angry, pure and simple”. He also adds that “for the first time, I enjoy expressing emotion!” He then smashes up the chess board and leaves. I’m assuming this is Spock still experiencing the effects of his encounter with the Red Angel, because this is all very un-Spock-like, to say the least.
Right on cue, Burnham gets called to the bridge, and it seems she’s only now being made aware of their trip to Section 31 headquarters. Everyone is taken off guard when those mines start to move towards the ship, and they turn out to be “blade mines” that can slice up the hull. They attack the ship, but don’t seem to do much actual damage.
Burnham, inspired by the chess match, says that the mines are being controlled by a computer, which means they can be defeated by “chaos and randomness”. So Pike goes around the bridge and has everyone take turns yelling out random maneuvers, and that gets them through the minefield.
They get hailed by the Vulcan admiral Patar. Pike asks why she attacked Discovery, and Patar replies it’s because, duh, Discovery is a fugitive ship. Then she says the order to attack came from Starfleet Command, and everyone gives each other stunned looks like this is some kind of bombshell.
She says a Section 31 ship is coming to apprehend them and ends the call. Cornwell says they have to get inside Section 31 HQ and “reset” Control, so Pike gets Burnham and Nhan together for an away team. Airiam volunteers to join them, and all throughout the episode she’s been having more of those moments where the three red lights appear in her pupils, so you know this isn’t going to end well.
Before they head over, Spock and Stamets have a conversation in Engineering, where Stamets reminds Spock that Burnham risked her life to save him. So Spock deflects with his own observation: he knows about Stamets’ relationship with Culber, and says that the problem isn’t that Culber no longer knows how he feels about Stamets, but rather that he “no longer knows how to feel about himself.” At what point did Spock get up to speed on the romantic entanglements of everyone on Discovery?
The three woman beam over to Section 31 headquarters in EV suits, because there’s no power or life support. They immediately find the bodies of all the admirals from the previous episode, frozen solid and floating around in zero-G. This includes the body of Admiral Patar, who’s been dead for weeks even though Pike was just talking to her.
Saru has the answer: it appears Patar’s transmission also contained her “heat signature” (say what?), and that signature never changed, proving she was really a hologram. What’s more, the footage of Spock killing his doctor also contains heat signatures that never changed, which proves the footage is a hologram too. They quickly figure out that all of these holograms were created by Control, and they’re now directly fighting an artificially intelligent computer.
Tilly discovers something else: Before Airiam went over on the away team, she offloaded all her personal memories to the ship’s computer, so she could store a ton of data from the 100,000 year old sphere in her brain. The “petabytes” she sent over to Section 31 previously wasn’t enough, I guess, so now she’s carrying all the info the sphere ever acquired on artificial intelligence. The crew figures out that Control wants to use this information to “evolve”, and become “fully conscious”. And if it does that, it’ll basically become the interstellar version of Skynet, and wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy as prophesied by the Red Angel.
Pike tries to warn Burnham and Nhan, but he’s too late. Airiam goes all Terminator on them, and rips off Nhan’s breathing apparatus, causing her to collapse. Airiam then fights with Burnham using some wire-fu that would make a lot more sense if they hadn’t already turned the gravity back on.
Burnham gets Airiam sealed inside an airlock, but it’ll only be a matter of minutes before she gets the door open. So on the bridge, Tilly opens up a channel to Airiam, and tries the old clichéd sci-fi tactic of reaching the brainwashed/possessed/mind-controlled character by appealing to their humanity and emotions. In this case, Tilly reminds Airiam of how they’re suddenly close friends in this episode, and how they “adore” each other, and she even sends Airiam some of her memories of happier times.
Airiam is able to snap out of the brainwashing, but Control is still in control of her motor functions. She tells Burnham that she has to open the airlock and flush Airiam out into space. Because if she succeeds in escaping, she’ll kill Burnham and destroy Discovery. And to increase the “suspense”, there’s even a ridiculous countdown to the door opening.
Burnham cries and says she can’t do this to her sudden close friend. But then Airiam provides another clue to this season-long mystery when she says, “It wanted me to kill you. Everything is because of you!” So again, nothing has transpired yet to disprove my assumption that the Red Angel is future Burnham.
Airiam starts to tell Burnham to seek out “Project Daedalus” when she suddenly gets blown out into space. It seems Nhan is up and around again, and she’s the one who opened the airlock. Yep, it’s that other cliché where the person who gets taken out early on in a fight sequence “surprisingly” comes back to save the day at the last minute.
Back on Discovery, everyone is in tears, and Spock and Stamets randomly show up on the bridge so that they too can react to Airiam’s death. Though, given Spock’s intimate knowledge of the crew and Airiam’s sudden closeness with everybody, it wouldn’t stun me that the two of them became BFFs in the last two days.
Meanwhile, Airiam floats off into the void, and as she dies, she relives her last memory of her fiancé, just before a “System Failure” message flashes before her eyes. We then get silent credits out of respect to the memory of Airiam.
This was a dud of an episode, primarily because it’s about 15 minutes of plot stretched out to 50 minutes of episode. Discovery trying to get into Section 31 HQ takes up a huge chunk of time, but at no point is there any suspense about whether they’re going to make it or not. And why was getting past the mines so important in the first place, if they could just beam over there?
The only interesting part was when the clues to this season’s mystery started to fall into place: it appears we’re watching a temporal conflict playing out between an advanced, sentient version of Control, and whoever the Red Angel is (it’s Burnham from the future). But I don’t know if the prior 45 or so minutes justified those few minutes of revelations.
And it couldn’t be more obvious that they threw in a whole bunch of character development for Airiam just to make her death more meaningful. And it doesn’t work; it takes more than a few minutes of happy memories to make me care about a character who probably averaged about one line per episode. And again, there was just too much dawdling around, with the red lights flashing in Airiam’s eyes and making her do suspicious things, and then the red lights flashing again as she snapped out of it, and this happened at least three or four times over the course of the episode.
The whole thing feels like a stall tactic in the big season-long arc; clearly, the writers had a point A and point B in mind this week, but couldn’t come up with enough story to fill in the space between. Also, why is the episode called “Project Daedalus” when it was only mentioned in one line at the very end? Overall, this was a dull comedown after the terrific effort put forth last week. But historically, Star Trek shows have rarely pulled off more than one great episode in a row.
Next up: Airiam gets a proper space burial. Burnham shares a kiss with Vyler, who I guess still exists after all. And there’s something about the entire crew watching as Spock straps Burnham into a futuristic-looking chair. Is this Project Daedalus? And could this be what sends her forward and/or back in time to become the Red Angel?